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Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message July 4, 2021

Lord, we stand today as our forefathers have stood before You in times gone by, Celebrating our history and reveling in all the great things that our country has achieved. On this day we rejoice in the favor You have graciously given us. We thank You for the blessings of liberty, for this generation and for the generations to come. We thank You for our independence, peace and for all those who have bravely given their lives in the defense of freedom and justice. We thank You that Your gracious and provident hand has given us so much. Yet as a nation and people we have not always chosen the right way. We ask You to forgive us for these times. On this day we commit ourselves to wholeheartedly honoring and serving You. With everything that we are, we lay our lives before You. Make us a generous people, A holy nation, A people set aside to love You forever, For the sake of the land of the brave and free, And the peoples and nations of this world. Today, we do not presume Your grace for our country. Our land is in need of You, Our people are in need of You, Our industry and business is in need of You. May we look only to You This Independence Day, dependent on You. Please come now by Your glorious Holy Spirit, Breathe new life into the sinews of this nation. May justice flow like rivers, And righteousness like a never failing stream, Until the whole of our country is covered with Your glory, As the waters cover the sea. We ask all this in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now and Forever, and to the Ages of Ages.Amen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Many of of our parents and grandparents came to America in order to establish a better life for us – the progeny they couldn’t even know at the time. Let us never disrespect their love and sacrifice. My grandfather, Nicholas Zakis earned his American Citizenship by serving in the US Army. Our family’s most prominent portrait of him and his wife, my Yiayia Zambia, is in uniform, proudly sporting his Sargent’s Stripes. He worked hard, suffered greatly, lived gently, and absolutely loved this country. 

It is my humble prayer that our nation can be healed, united, blessed, made safe, grounded in prayer, bathed in love, and continued in strength. American independence is a gift to the world. This is not nationalistic pride, but a God-given promise that all men shall be seen as equal, just as the Lord views His creation.

Sacred principles such as this have been tested, twisted, stretched and shrunk since our nation’s birth. But they are principles worth keeping sacred.

They should not be discarded, taken for granted or assumed that they are intended for “some,” not the “other.” The Lord has gifted the world these United States of America. The Lord has established His holy Church within these blesses shores.

We have a prayerful responsibility as Orthodox Christians to be the light, to be the comfort, to be the guide, to be the protector, to be the witness, to be the face of Christ in our country and beyond. God bless America. God bless our leaders. God bless our military and veterans. God bless the peace makers. God bless us all. 

Happy Independence Day Weekend! God bless you on the 4th of July!

With Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message June 20, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost – the gift of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples, thus instituting the Church of Christ upon the world. It is at this moment, when the origins of the Orthodox Christian Church were established. Not in the Fourth Century. Not in the Middle Ages. Not in the 1800’s. Pentecost.

This is a celebration of unity and union. Men of differing life circumstances were united in their service to Christ, and were equipped to minister to the known and unknown world with the gift of language. The Gospel from that time forward would then be preached to all of humankind, and the message that Christ is risen from the dead would be carried to all corners of the earth. 

For our own community, This day of Pentecost represents another “breath” that is blowing through us. As we emerge from our separation from each other for these past several months, we see a re-confirmed unity and re-established purpose for us. More and more of us are returning to church and more and more ministries and activities are coming online for the benefit of our fellowship and personal interaction. 

And as has been announced, our Archbishop, being with us to celebrate our Parish Name Day in July is just the perfect opportunity for all of us to share in our collective love for one another, our affinity towards our Matron Saint, our devotion to her daughter, the Theotokos and our ultimate devotion to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Name Day Celebration is going to be our absolute re-introduction to the beauty of our church grounds and the laughter that has been missing from them for far, too long. 

But also, please let me remind us all of the value of this great Feast which stands before us. The late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, a prolific author and keen academic shared his thoughts on Pentecost. I’d like to share them with you.

“In the Church’s annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is “the last and great day.” It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the end—the achievement and fulfillment—of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the “birthday” of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, of the new life in Christ, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fulness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. It symbolizes the fulness of time by its first component: 49, which is the fulness of seven (7 x 7): the number of time. And, it symbolizes that which is beyond time by its second component: 49 + 1, this one being the new day, the “day without evening” of God’s eternal Kingdom. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fulness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to “appropriate” these gifts, to be that which we have become in Christ: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

The liturgical peculiarity of Pentecost is a very special Vespers of the day itself. Usually this service follows immediately the Divine Liturgy, is “added” to it as its own fulfillment. The service begins as a solemn “summing up” of the entire celebration, as its liturgical synthesis. We hold flowers in our hands symbolizing the joy of the eternal spring, inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After the festal Entrance, this joy reaches its climax in the singing of the Great Prokeimenon:

“Who is so great a God as our God?”

Then, having reached this climax, we are invited to kneel. This is our first kneeling since Easter. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fulness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history. It is evening again, and the night approaches, during which temptations and failures await us, when, more than anything else, we need Divine help, that presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who has already revealed to us the joyful End, who now will help us in our effort towards fulfillment and salvation.

All this is revealed in the three prayers which the celebrant reads now as we all kneel and listen to him. In the first prayer, we bring to God our repentance, our increased appeal for forgiveness of sins, the first condition for entering into the Kingdom of God.

In the second prayer, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to teach us to pray and to follow the true path in the dark and difficult night of our earthly existence. Finally, in the third prayer, we remember all those who have achieved their earthly journey, but who are united with us in the eternal God of Love.

The joy of Easter has been completed and we again have to wait for the dawn of the Eternal Day. Yet, knowing our weakness, humbling ourselves by kneeling, we also know the joy and the power of the Holy Spirit who has come. We know that God is with us, that in Him is our victory.

Thus is completed the feast of Pentecost and we enter “the ordinary time” of the year. Yet, every Sunday now will be called “after Pentecost”—and this means that it is from the power and light of these fifty days that we shall receive our own power, the Divine help in our daily struggle. At Pentecost we decorate our churches with flowers and green branches—for the Church “never grows old, but is always young.” It is an evergreen, ever-living Tree of grace and life, of joy and comfort. For the Holy Spirit—“the Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life—comes and abides in us, and cleanses us from all impurity,” and fills our life with meaning, love, faith and hope.”

As I am away (writing this message from Denver, CO), I am grateful that Fr. Elias will be sharing these prayers with you. I was ordained to the holy Priesthood 24 years ago on the Feast of Pentecost at the Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, Texas, where I served for eight years. In this past, nearly quarter of a century, I have experienced many blessings and challenges, highs and lows, celebrations and lamentations. But all for the glory of God, all guided by His wisdom, and attached to the same Holy Spirit, Who breathes life into the collective Church and individual Christian, each and every day. May you enjoy a blessed Feast! 

With Much Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 30, 2021

The St. Anna Altar just before the Vigil on the Eve of Pascha. Photo by Mark Vrontikis

Christ is risen from the dead. Trampling down and death by death. And to those in the tombs, He is bestowing life.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

Truly He is Risen!

It was a joy to “worship” with you for the last two Sundays, as I was able to join St. Anna’s via YouTube for the Liturgies celebrated by Frs. Lou Christopulos and Daniel Payne. I am grateful for their service while we were away. I am just as grateful to be back, refreshed and ready to get going on what will prove to be a very busy summer. The events of the summer will begin this Sunday as we finish our Sunday School Year with graduation to take place following the Divine Liturgy. We bless our Program Graduates, Markella Savas, Zachary Petrogeorge and Eleni Yannias. We also extend our blessings and congratulations to all high school and college graduates. 

I also wish to extend an invitation to our Annual Spring Parish Assembly that will take place following the services this Sunday, May 30th. There is much to discuss and learn about, including the sale of the home donated to St. Anna’s, the next, possible stages of our church build out, and the updates to our Covid safety protocols. These are all very positive and exciting points of discussion. I don’t think anyone will want to miss out on this information. 

Specifically to the point of our Medical Advisory Ministry Team (MAM), I would like to share in advance of the Assembly, some highlighted points from our ministry chair, Dr. Julie Steele. She and her committee have worked extremely hard for the last year to keep us as safe as possible while walking the fine, ever-changing and difficult line of balancing our tolerance levels with our legitimate concerns. I praise them for their diligence, expertise and fidelity to our Lord and His precious children who are entrusted to our care. Here are Julie’s initial thoughts for us:

Based on the updated CDC guidelines for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and recent state legislation, masks and face coverings will no longer be required at St. Anna’s. The MAM has reviewed this guidance and supports this transition. In accordance with the CDC guidelines the MAM encourages individuals to wear a mask due to vaccination status and/or other personal factors.

The results of our recent survey show that the majority of respondents report that they have been or intend to get vaccinated. There was still some hesitancy about return to worship without masks or face coverings. The need to protect young unvaccinated children was a concern. We thank you for your participation in this survey and feel we had a good response rate.

As a reminder, people are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after completing the recommend vaccine schedule. This means that many of the youth in our community have not yet had an opportunity to be fully vaccinated, and it will be 1-2 months before they will be able to fully vaccinated as only the 2 dose vaccine is approved for youth.

Regardless of what someone chooses (mask or no mask), we are a community and ask everyone to be respectful of individual decisions on mask wearing. We also remind you to continue with your good hand hygiene and please stay home if you are sick.  We will discuss more details of what this means for planning of summer activities, coffee hour, return of printed materials, choir and congregational singing at the General Assembly on Sunday (May 30th).

Special thanks to our diverse Medical Advisory Ministry for sharing their time and expertise, and to Tom Leitko for his amazing help with the survey.”

So my beloved in the Lord, the bottom-line take away, is that we are making progress toward a normalized way of life: at home, in society, at school, at work and in Church! I so look forward to the planning and implementation of in-person gatherings, ministry activities and all that we hold dear as a community. We are truly emerging from a dark and difficult place. You have been patient and lovely through a challenging year. I pray for those whom we have lost, knowing that their families are grounded in the promise of Resurrection to Life!

Please be aware that for a time in July, we will be discontinuing our livestreaming service for a short time. It’s now time that we remove the camera, computer, cables and cords from the front of the church and relocate our equipment to a more appropriate location. To those of us who depend on livestreaming, please know that we will make these changes as quickly as possible. I also remind you to contact me or your parish priest (for our beloved out-of-state brothers and sisters) to make sure that you are pastorally served and given the opportunity for a Sacramental participation at home. But hey, if you’ve just grown accustomed to livestream church – it’s time to come back! We miss you. I miss all of you.

There is much to say and much to look forward to in the coming days, weeks and months. Changes. Good changes. Fantastic changes. All to God’s glory and for the benefit of His faithful. Again, please be attentive at tomorrow’s Parish Assembly so you can hear everything first-hand. In celebration of God’s love, as evident in His third day rising, I remain,

With Love in the Resurrected Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message May 9, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

Truly He is Risen!

We are just finishing Bright Week – the continued Day of Pascha. And though you are no doubt, and regrettably  accustomed to typos slipping into my messages here and there, Bright Week being a single Day is not a misspelling. Bright Week, or Renewal Week is a continued celebration of the single event that is the Resurrection of Christ. It takes us to the first Sunday following the Resurrection, when we lift up the doubt and the proclamation of St. Thomas. Our specific Paschal celebration will come to a conclusion, but the Season of the Resurrection continues up until the Leave Taking of Pascha and the Feast of the Ascension. 

But returning to our Holy Week and Pascha. Thank you to all who made our preparations and celebrations dignified and lovely. So much of what had been missed returned to us: groups of people engaged in fellowship and sacred tasks; children learning, growing and thriving in their faith; and the people of God worshiping, witnessing and glorifying their precious Savior. This was a transitional year. Next year, I hope to see all of us back and in our places and hearing your voices.  We are on track for a return to our not-so-distant days of high energy, shared excitement and Christ-centered motivation. Our thoughts and actions are now squarely on building back our community, and transforming our liturgical space. 

But just as many of you were able to return to the church for Holy Week and Pascha, there are those friends among us who continue to worship through live streaming. One such friend is Sister Nonna Harrison, an Orthodox Monastic who lives in the Los Angeles area; a well-respected academic and a kind soul. I was blessed to know Sr. Nonna while in California and have recently renewed our communication and friendship in Christ. She is a brilliant Patristic scholar, lecturer and author. When the timing is right for her, it is my full intention to bring her to St. Anna’s for a much-needed retreat. 

Having received her permission to share a message she sent me, I’d like to tie some things together. Indeed, we are, and will continue to chant the clarion proclamation that Christ is Risen from the Dead. Pascha was last Sunday. But Mother’s Day is THIS Sunday, and Sr. Nonna, always the teacher, wove together a wonderful message about the ministry of the Theotokos in these days, and her continued relationship with her Son. 

Dear Fr. Anthony,

Thank you for providing services for Holy Week and Pascha on You Tube. I was present at almost all of them. Sometimes a little later than when you were there. This has been a tremendous blessing to me. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about Christ’s resurrection.

When he died, his whole human nature was still present and his body entered the tomb. His divine hypostasis and nature remained alive, of course. His soul went down to Hades. But the divine hypostasis remained united with each natural part of him and held them all together regardless of where  each was. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, acting as one, raised his body and soul from the dead and sustained his personal unity. This was an act of restoration that could only be accomplished by the Creator.  So Christ remains fully God and fully human. Once he is raised, his humanity also is active with God in the great work of raising humankind from the dead, a work that is ongoing and not as yet completed.

Christ’s human personal relationships with other people, such as his disciples, continue but are transformed by his resurrection. These relationships are an important part of his humanity. He knows us in a divine way and also in a human way. We know when we pray to him that he has himself experienced many basic things that we also undergo. For instance, he has experienced childhood, though we do not know many details since they are not included in the Gospels. He has also experienced many kinds of suffering that humans undergo. This helps us to pray to him.
His personal closeness with his Mother continues. During his Passion and after his death he heard her lamentations. The hymns of the church suggest that he answered her, speaking words of comfort and reassurance. She is now with her Son in heaven and is greatly glorified. His love for her grew after the resurrection, and so did her love for him. The Mother/Son relationship continues and is strengthened.

It is a blessing to her and to all humankind. Christ loves humans as his relatives through her. And she loves them for his sake, especially members of his Church. Therefore we pray to her with thanksgiving and praises, and also in our sins and in our needs, asking for her help. She is a loving mother to us. We ask her to pray to her Son for us. I do this especially when I fear his judgment.

With thanks and best wishes,

Sr. Nonna.


I thank Sr. Nonna for her lovely message that keeps us in the Moment, and allows us to find, yet another opportunity to lift up Panagia with love, respect, tenderness and awe. 

So, may you all enjoy the blessings of the Resurrection! And may our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, nuns, female role models, teachers and friends be blessed for their nurturing ministry. Happy Mother’s Day! St. Thomas will have to share the day. I have to believe that his mother would approve. 

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter
St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church

Some Reminders: Please continue to bring case-lot items for our on-going food support ministry. People are in need. We are here to help!I have also attached the flyer for our Golf Classic Tournament. We are in need of teams and volunteers. Please, sign up and play!We are still about 12% off our 2021 Stewardship Goal as we hit mid-year. Please, Please, Please, if you have not done so, turn in your 2021 Pledge!Twelve percent may not sound like much, but it is. Let’s do this ! Thank you!

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 18, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This is Sunday is the final Sunday of Great Lent. It is dedicated to our mother, the venerable St. Mary of Egypt. Please read this account of her life. It is long and detailed. But well worth the read. We may not identify with the  particulars of her life. But we can appreciate her struggle and desire to be with God. May she ever pray and intercede for us!

Saint Zosimas (April 4) was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery on the outskirts of Caesarea. Having dwelt at the monastery since his childhood, he lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. Then he was disturbed by the thought that he had attained perfection, and needed no one to instruct him. “Is there a monk anywhere who can show me some form of asceticism that I have not attained? Is there anyone who has surpassed me in spiritual sobriety and deeds?”

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Zosimas, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this is in the power of man. However, there is no one who is righteous (Rom 3:10). So that you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land, like Abraham from the house of his father (Gen 12:1), and go to the monastery by the Jordan.”

Abba Zosimas immediately left the monastery, and following the angel, he went to the Jordan monastery and settled in it.

Here he met Elders who were adept in contemplation, and also in their struggles. Never did anyone utter an idle word. Instead, they sang constantly, and prayed all night long. Abba Zosimas began to imitate the spiritual activity of the holy monks.

Thus much time passed, and the holy Forty Day Fast approached. There was a certain custom at the monastery, which was why God had led Saint Zosimas there. On the First Sunday of Great Lent the igumen (abbot) served the Divine Liturgy, everyone received the All-Pure Body and Blood of Christ. Afterwards, they went to the trapeza (place for a common meal) for a small repast, and then assembled once more in church.

The monks prayed and made prostrations, asking forgiveness one of another. Then they made a prostration before the igumen and asked his blessing for the struggle that lay before them. During the Psalm “The Lord is my Light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 26/27:1), they opened the monastery gate and went off into the wilderness.

Each took with him as much food as he needed, and went into the desert. When their food ran out, they ate roots and desert plants. The monks crossed the Jordan and scattered in various directions, so that no one might see how another fasted or how they spent their time.

The monks returned to the monastery on Palm Sunday, each having his own conscience as a witness of his ascetic struggles. It was a rule of the monastery that no one asked how anyone else had toiled in the desert.

Abba Zosimas, according to the custom of the monastery, went deep into the desert hoping to find someone living there who could benefit him.

He walked into the wilderness for twenty days and then, when he sang the Psalms of the Sixth Hour and made the usual prayers. Suddenly, to the right of the hill where he stood, he saw a human form. He was afraid, thinking that it might be a demonic apparition. Then he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, which removed his fear. He turned to the right and saw a form walking southward. The body was black from the blazing sunlight, and the faded short hair was white like a sheep’s fleece. Abba Zosimas rejoiced, since he had not seen any living thing for many days.

The desert-dweller saw Zosimas approaching, and attempted to flee from him. Abba Zosimas, forgetting his age and fatigue, quickened his pace. When he was close enough to be heard, he called out, “Why do you flee from me, a sinful old man? Wait for me, for the love of God.”

The stranger said to him, “Forgive me, Abba Zosimas, but I cannot turn and show my face to you. I am a woman, and as you see, I am naked. If you would grant the request of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so I might cover my body, and then I can ask for your blessing.”

Then Abba Zosimas was terrified, realizing that she could not have called him by name unless she possessed spiritual insight.

Covered by the cloak, the ascetic turned to Zosimas: “Why do you want to speak with me, a sinful woman? What did you wish to learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great labors?”

Abba Zosimas fell to the ground and asked for her blessing. She also bowed down before him, and for a long time they remained on the ground each asking the other to bless. Finally, the woman ascetic said: “Abba Zosimas, you must bless and pray, since you are honored with the grace of the priesthood. For many years you have stood before the holy altar, offering the Holy Gifts to the Lord.”

These words frightened Saint Zosimas even more. With tears he said to her, “O Mother! It is clear that you live with God and are dead to this world. You have called me by name and recognized me as a priest, though you have never seen me before. The grace granted you is apparent, therefore bless me, for the Lord’s sake.”

Yielding finally to his entreaties, she said, “Blessed is God, Who cares for the salvation of men.” Abba Zosimas replied, “Amen.” Then they rose to their feet. The woman ascetic again said to the Elder, “Why have you come, Father, to me who am a sinner, bereft of every virtue? Apparently, the grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to do me a service. But tell me first, Abba, how do the Christians live, how is the Church guided?”

Abba Zosimas answered her, “By your holy prayers God has granted the Church and us all a lasting peace. But fulfill my unworthy request, Mother, and pray for the whole world and for me a sinner, that my wanderings in the desert may not be useless.”

The holy ascetic replied, “You, Abba Zosimas, as a priest, ought to pray for me and for all, for you are called to do this. However, since we must be obedient, I will do as you ask.”

The saint turned toward the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. She prayed so softly that Abba Zosimas could not hear her words. After a long time, the Elder looked up and saw her standing in the air more than a foot above the ground. Seeing this, Zosimas threw himself down on the ground, weeping and repeating, “Lord, have mercy!”

Then he was tempted by a thought. He wondered if she might not be a spirit, and if her prayer could be insincere. At that moment she turned around, lifted him from the ground and said, “Why do your thoughts confuse you, Abba Zosimas? I am not an apparition. I am a sinful and unworthy woman, though I am guarded by holy Baptism.”

Then she made the Sign of the Cross and said, “May God protect us from the Evil One and his schemes, for fierce is his struggle against us.” Seeing and hearing this, the Elder fell at her feet with tears saying, “I beseech you by Christ our God, do not conceal from me who you are and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything, so that the wondrous works of God may be revealed.”

She replied, “It distresses me, Father, to speak to you about my shameless life. When you hear my story, you might flee from me, as if from a poisonous snake. But I shall tell you everything, Father, concealing nothing. However, I exhort you, cease not to pray for me a sinner, that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment.

“I was born in Egypt and when I was twelve years old, I left my parents and went to Alexandria. There I lost my chastity and gave myself to unrestrained and insatiable sensuality. For more than seventeen years I lived like that and I did it all for free. Do not think that I refused the money because I was rich. I lived in poverty and worked at spinning flax. To me, life consisted in the satisfaction of my fleshly lust.

“One summer I saw a crowd of people from Libya and Egypt heading toward the sea. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I also wanted to sail with them. Since I had no food or money, I offered my body in payment for my passage. And so I embarked on the ship.

“Now, Father, believe me, I am very amazed, that the sea tolerated my wantonness and fornication, that the earth did not open up its mouth and take me down alive into hell, because I had ensnared so many souls. I think that God was seeking my repentance. He did not desire the death of a sinner, but awaited my conversion.

“So I arrived in Jerusalem and spent all the days before the Feast living the same sort of life, and maybe even worse.

“When the holy Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross of the Lord arrived, I went about as before, looking for young men. At daybreak I saw that everyone was heading to the church, so I went along with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation drew nigh, I was trying to enter into the church with all the people. With great effort I came almost to the doors, and attempted to squeeze inside.

Although I stepped up to the threshold, it was as though some force held me back, preventing me from entering. I was brushed aside by the crowd, and found myself standing alone on the porch. I thought that perhaps this happened because of my womanly weakness. I worked my way into the crowd, and again I attempted to elbow people aside. However hard I tried, I could not enter. Just as my feet touched the church threshold, I was stopped. Others entered the church without difficulty, while I alone was not allowed in. This happened three or four times. Finally my strength was exhausted. I went off and stood in a corner of the church portico.

“Then I realized that it was my sins that prevented me from seeing the Life-Creating Wood. The grace of the Lord then touched my heart. I wept and lamented, and I began to beat my breast. Sighing from the depths of my heart, I saw above me an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Turning to Her, I prayed: ‘O Lady Virgin, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know that I am unworthy to look upon your icon. I rightly inspire hatred and disgust before your purity, but I know also that God became Man in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One. Let me enter the church. Allow me to behold the Wood upon which the Lord was crucified in the flesh, shedding His Blood for the redemption of sinners, and also for me. Be my witness before Your Son that I will never defile my body again with the impurity of fornication. As soon as I have seen the Cross of your Son, I will renounce the world, and go wherever you lead me.’

“After I had spoken, I felt confidence in the compassion of the Mother of God, and left the spot where I had been praying. I joined those entering the church, and no one pushed me back or prevented me from entering. I went on in fear and trembling, and entered the holy place.

“Thus I also saw the Mysteries of God, and how God accepts the penitent. I fell to the holy ground and kissed it. Then I hastened again to stand before the icon of the Mother of God, where I had given my vow. Bending my knees before the Virgin Theotokos, I prayed:

‘O Lady, you have not rejected my prayer as unworthy. Glory be to God, Who accepts the repentance of sinners. It is time for me to fulfill my vow, which you witnessed. Therefore, O Lady, guide me on the path of repentance.’

“Then I heard a voice from on high: ‘If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.’

“I immediately believed that this voice was meant for me, and I cried out to the Mother of God: ‘O Lady, do not forsake me!’

“Then I left the church portico and started on my journey. A certain man gave me three coins as I was leaving the church. With them I bought three loaves of bread, and asked the bread merchant the way to the Jordan.

“It was nine o’clock when I saw the Cross. At sunset I reached the church of Saint John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the church, I went down to the Jordan and washed my face and hands in its water. Then in this same temple of Saint John the Forerunner I received the Life-Creating Mysteries of Christ. Then I ate half of one of my loaves of bread, drank water from the holy Jordan, and slept there that night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed the river to the opposite shore. Again I prayed that the Mother of God would lead me where She wished. Then I found myself in this desert.”

Abba Zosimas asked her, “How many years have passed since you began to live in the desert?”

“‘I think,” she replied, “it is forty-seven years since I came from the Holy City.”

Abba Zosimas again asked, “What food do you find here, Mother?”

And she said, “I had with me two and a half loaves of bread when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried out and hardened. Eating a little at a time, I finished them after a few years.”

Again Abba Zosimas asked, “Is it possible you have survived for so many years without sickness, and without suffering in any way from such a complete change?”

“Believe me, Abba Zosimas,” the woman said, “I spent seventeen years in this wilderness [after she had spent seventeen years in immorality], fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger. I also had a mad desire for lewd songs. I seemed to hear them, disturbing my heart and my hearing. Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.

“Abba, how shall I tell you of the thoughts that urged me on to fornication? A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me.

“Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.”

Abba Zosimas again inquired, “How is it that you require neither food, nor clothing?”

She answered, “After finishing my bread, I lived on herbs and the things one finds in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed over the Jordan became torn and fell apart. I suffered both from the summer heat, when the blazing heat fell upon me, and from the winter cold, when I shivered from the frost. Many times I fell down upon the earth, as though dead. I struggled with various afflictions and temptations. But from that time until the present day, the power of God has guarded my sinful soul and humble body. I was fed and clothed by the all-powerful word of God, since man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3, Mt.4:4, Luke 4:4), and those who have put off the old man (Col 3:9) have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24:8, Heb 11:38). When I remember from what evil and from what sins the Lord delivered me, I have imperishable food for salvation.”

When Abba Zosimas heard that the holy ascetic quoted the Holy Scripture from memory, from the Books of Moses and Job and from the Psalms of David, he then asked the woman, “Mother, have you read the Psalms and other books?”

She smiled at hearing this question, and answered, “Believe me, I have seen no human face but yours from the time that I crossed over the Jordan. I never learned from books. I have never heard anyone read or sing from them. Perhaps the Word of God, which is alive and acting, teaches man knowledge by itself (Col 3:16, 1 Thess 2:13). This is the end of my story. As I asked when I began, I beg you for the sake of the Incarnate Word of God, holy Abba, pray for me, a sinner.

“Furthermore, I beg you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, tell no one what you have heard from me, until God takes me from this earth. Next year, during Great Lent, do not cross the Jordan, as is the custom of your monastery.”

Again Abba Zosimas was amazed, that the practice of his monastery was known to the holy woman ascetic, although he had not said anything to her about this.

“Remain at the monastery,” the woman continued. “Even if you try to leave the monastery, you will not be able to do so. On Great and Holy Thursday, the day of the Lord’s Last Supper, place the Life-Creating Body and Blood of Christ our God in a holy vessel, and bring it to me. Await me on this side of the Jordan, at the edge of the desert, so that I may receive the Holy Mysteries. And say to Abba John, the igumen of your community, ‘Look to yourself and your brothers (1 Tim 4:16), for there is much that needs correction.’ Do not say this to him now, but when the Lord shall indicate.”

Asking for his prayers, the woman turned and vanished into the depths of the desert.

For a whole year Elder Zosimas remained silent, not daring to reveal to anyone what he had seen, and he prayed that the Lord would grant him to see the holy ascetic once more.

When the first week of Great Lent came again, Saint Zosimas was obliged to remain at the monastery because of sickness. Then he remembered the woman’s prophetic words that he would not be able to leave the monastery. After several days went by, Saint Zosimas was healed of his infirmity, but he remained at the monastery until Holy Week.

On Holy Thursday, Abba Zosimas did what he had been ordered to do. He placed some of the Body and Blood of Christ into a chalice, and some food in a small basket. Then he left the monastery and went to the Jordan and waited for the ascetic. The saint seemed tardy, and Abba Zosimas prayed that God would permit him to see the holy woman.

Finally, he saw her standing on the far side of the river. Rejoicing, Saint Zosimas got up and glorified God. Then he wondered how she could cross the Jordan without a boat. She made the Sign of the Cross over the water, then she walked on the water and crossed the Jordan. Abba Zosimas saw her in the moonlight, walking toward him. When the Elder wanted to make prostration before her, she forbade him, crying out, “What are you doing, Abba? You are a priest and you carry the Holy Mysteries of God.”

Reaching the shore, she said to Abba Zosimas, “Bless me, Father.” He answered her with trembling, astonished at what he had seen. “Truly God did not lie when he promised that those who purify themselves will be like Him. Glory to You, O Christ our God, for showing me through your holy servant, how far I am from perfection.”

The woman asked him to recite both the Creed and the “Our Father.” When the prayers were finished, she partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Then she raised her hands to the heavens and said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.”

The saint turned to the Elder and said, “Please, Abba, fulfill another request. Go now to your monastery, and in a year’s time come to the place where we first time spoke.”

He said, “If only it were possible for me to follow you and always see your holy face!”

She replied, “For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wretchedness.”

Again she made the Sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and walked over the water as before, and disappeared into the desert. Zosimas returned to the monastery with joy and terror, reproaching himself because he had not asked the saint’s name. He hoped to do so the following year.

A year passed, and Abba Zosimas went into the desert. He reached the place where he first saw the holy woman ascetic. She lay dead, with arms folded on her bosom, and her face was turned to the east.

Abba Zosimas washed her feet with his tears and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else. For a long while he wept over her and sang the customary Psalms, and said the funeral prayers. He began to wonder whether the saint would want him to bury her or not. Hardly had he thought this, when he saw something written on the ground near her head: “Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”

Reading this note, Abba Zosimas was glad to learn her name. He then realized that Saint Mary, after receiving the Holy Mysteries from his hand, was transported instantaneously to the place where she died, though it had taken him twenty days to travel that distance.

Glorifying God, Abba Zosimas said to himself, “It is time to do what she asks. But how can I dig a grave, with nothing in my hands?” Then he saw a small piece of wood left by some traveler. He picked it up and began to dig. The ground was hard and dry, and he could not dig it. Looking up, Abba Zosimas saw an enormous lion standing by the saint’s body and licking her feet. Fear gripped the Elder, but he guarded himself with the Sign of the Cross, believing that he would remain unharmed through the prayers of the holy woman ascetic. Then the lion came close to the Elder, showing its friendliness with every movement. Abba Zosimas commanded the lion to dig the grave, in order to bury Saint Mary’s body. At his words, the lion dug a hole deep enough to bury the body. Then each went his own way. The lion went into the desert, and Abba Zosimas returned to the monastery, blessing and praising Christ our God.

Arriving at the monastery, Abba Zosimas related to the monks and the igumen, what he had seen and heard from Saint Mary. All were astonished, hearing about the miracles of God. They always remembered Saint Mary with faith and love on the day of her repose.

Abba John, the igumen of the monastery, heeded the words of Saint Mary, and with the help of God corrected the things that were wrong at the monastery. Abba Zosimas lived a God-pleasing life at the monastery, reaching nearly a hundred years of age. There he finished his temporal life, and passed into life eternal.

The monks passed on the life of Saint Mary of Egypt by word of mouth without writing it down.

“I however,” says Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (March 11), “wrote down the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt as I heard it from the holy Fathers. I have recorded everything, putting the truth above all else.”

“May God, Who works great miracles and bestows gifts on all who turn to Him in faith, reward those who hear or read this account, and those who copy it. May he grant them a blessed portion together with Saint Mary of Egypt and with all the saints who have pleased God by their pious thoughts and works. Let us give glory to God, the Eternal King, that we may find mercy on the Day of Judgment through our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor, majesty and worship together with the Unoriginate Father, and the Most Holy and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

With Love in Christ,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 11, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As we draw near to our celebration of Pascha, several weeks after our Catholic and Protestant Brothers and Sisters, I thought this article was a fantastic resource to understand why there is such a wide difference in this year’s dates, how the dates are calculated, and just as importantly, how the dates are NOT calculated. Enjoy…

SOME COMMON MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE DATE OF PASCHA/EASTER
by Archon John Fotopoulos

Originally Posted on Public Orthodoxy

This essay was first published in 2017. It has been updated for 2021.

A common misperception among Orthodox Christians is that Orthodox Easter (i.e. Pascha) often occurs so much later than Western Christian Easter because the Orthodox Church abides by the rules for calculating the date of Pascha issued by the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in AD 325. Another element of this misperception is the belief that the Orthodox Church must wait for Passover to be celebrated by the Jewish community before Pascha may occur. Despite these views being held by so many Orthodox Christians, as well as being promoted in popular essays written by some Orthodox priests, they are inaccurate. The reason why Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs so much later than Easter celebrated by Roman Catholics and Protestants is neither because the Orthodox Church follows the Paschal formula of Nicaea, nor is it because the Western Churches fail to adhere this formula. It is also not because the Orthodox Church must wait for the Jewish celebration of Passover. Rather, Orthodox Pascha frequently occurs later than Western Easter because the Orthodox Church uses inaccurate scientific calculations that rely on the inaccurate Julian Calendar to determine the date of Pascha for each year. Some background information is necessary to help explain precisely what the problems are.

Historically, Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred in association with Jewish Passover, although the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matt, Luke) and the Gospel of John contain differences regarding the precise day of Passover at that time. In light of these differences, early Christian churches developed distinct practices regarding when they were to celebrate Christian Pascha and how the date of Pascha was to be determined. Some ancient Churches celebrated Pascha on the Sunday immediately following Jewish Passover, while others emphasized Jesus’ suffering and death on Pascha and thus celebrated the feast on the same day as Jewish Passover, regardless of what day of the week Passover occurred.  Christian communities that adhered to either one of these Paschal traditions often relied on local Jewish communities’ calculations of Passover in order to determine the date of their respective Christian Pascha. Passover is itself a lunar festival marking the beginning of the new year and is to occur annually on the vernal full moon—a date that came to be designated in the Jewish Calendar as the 14th of Nisan (Exod 12:1-6). Ancient Jewish communities faced many challenges in regulating their year by a lunar calendar.  Because the Jewish lunar calendar frequently fell out of step with the seasons of a solar year, Jews could add an additional month to their calendar every two or three years to correct Passover from occurring out of season. A late decision to add a month to the Jewish calendar and/or difficulties communicating meant that not all Jewish communities were always aware of the extra month. This resulted in some Jewish communities celebrating Passover in different months, while other Jewish communities ended up mistakenly celebrating Passover twice in the same year.
Because of Christian dependence on unreliable Jewish calculations of the vernal full moon for Passover, and because of the varying Christian traditions for the date of Pascha’s celebration, the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicaea convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine attempted to resolve these issues and promote Christian unity, issuing a formula for the calculation of Pascha. The Council at Nicaea determined that Pascha would occur on:
the first Sunday after | the first full moon occurring | on or after the vernal equinox
This Nicene formula solved several practical issues. First, the Church determined that Pascha would not be celebrated on the same day as the vernal full moon which itself is to mark the festival of Jewish Passover. By resolving to celebrate Pascha on the first Sunday after the vernal full moon, Christian Pascha would forever be associated with Jewish Passover without being identified with it, thus maintaining the historical associations of Jesus’ death and resurrection with Passover. Second, by resolving that the Christian celebration of Pascha must occur annually after the vernal equinox, the Church ensured that Pascha would only occur once each solar year. Third, the Nicene formula itself meant that the Church would not be reliant on Jewish calendars for the calculation of Passover (the vernal full moon i.e. 14 Nisan), nor would the Church be obliged to wait for Jewish communities to celebrate Passover before celebrating Christian Pascha. Rather, the Nicene formula ensured that the Christian calculation of Pascha would occur independently of the Jewish reckoning of Passover by instead using the astronomical data of the vernal equinox and the vernal full moon in order to calculate the Sunday of Pascha. This maintained the historical and theological associations between Jewish Passover and Christian Pascha, while allowing the Church to ascertain the vernal full moon (i.e., what should be 14 Nisan and hence Passover) without Jewish calendrical problems. Because Alexandria, Egypt was known as a premier center of astronomy in the ancient world, the Church of Alexandria came to assume responsibility in the Eastern Church for making scientific calculations used to determine the date of Pascha. Although today many rigorist Orthodox assert that it is only permissible to use the Julian Calendar to determine Paschal dates by employing the ancient Alexandrian scientific calculations, this is to ignore that the Alexandrian Christians used their own Egyptian calendrical dates to calculate Pascha which were then translated into Julian Calendar dates for other parts of the empire. Moreover, although the Council of Nicaea issued a clear formula for the calculation of Pascha, it did not precisely regulate the technical details, methods, or calendar by which the vernal equinox and the vernal full moon should be determined. Rather, Alexandria assumed greater responsibility for making Paschal calculations because the Church expected that the best scientific means available would be used to determine Paschal dates.
While the Orthodox Church and the Western Churches both continue to follow the formula of Nicaea for the determination of Pascha/Easter, the differences in their respective dates of celebration stem largely from the use of different calendars (Julian vs. Gregorian) and different methods of scientific calculation so as to ascertain the vernal equinox and vernal full moon. The Orthodox Church employs a complex mathematical formula to calculate the date of Pascha. This formula uses the more inaccurate Julian Calendar (currently 13 days behind the Gregorian Calendar) and a “fixed” Julian Calendar date of March 21st (Gregorian Calendar, April 3rd) as the vernal equinox. The Orthodox Church also utilizes a mathematically calculated approximation of the vernal full moon based on a 19-year lunar cycle (the Metonic Cycle). The actual astronomical vernal equinox, however, occurs between 13 to 15 days earlier (Julian Calendar, March 6th-8th; Gregorian Calendar, March 19th-21st) than the aforementioned Orthodox “fixed” Julian Calendar’s vernal equinox. In other words, the vernal equinox used by the Orthodox Church for its calculation of Pascha is not the actual astronomical vernal equinox, nor is the vernal full moon—which Pascha must follow according to Nicaea—the actual astronomical vernal full moon. Simply stated, the best available calendar and best available science are no longer being utilized for the calculation of Pascha. This results in Orthodox celebrations of Pascha that are frequently out of sync with the astronomical phenomena of the vernal equinox and the vernal full moon. Thus, Orthodox Pascha often occurs later in the spring. However, the Western Churches use the Gregorian Calendar (a much more accurate calendar—although not perfect) and a more accurate scientific calculation of the vernal equinox and vernal full moon. This results in a more accurate calculation of Easter which better corresponds with the actual astronomical phenomena.
In this year of 2021, for example, Orthodox Pascha is celebrated four weeks later than Western Easter. Western Easter occurs on April 4th, whereas Orthodox Pascha falls on May 2nd (Julian Calendar, April 19th). However, a quick look at the actual astronomical data clearly demonstrates the problems with the current Orthodox calculation of Pascha. According to NASA, the 2021 vernal equinox occurs on March 20th at 9:37 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). However, it is important to remember that the date and time of the vernal equinox depend on the meridian used for calculation (the position on earth used as the reference point). Therefore, it is generally agreed that Jerusalem should be used as the meridian since it is the historical location of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus, the 2021 vernal equinox occurs in Jerusalem on March 20th at 11:37 (UTC+2). Moreover, according to NASA, the first full moon after the vernal equinox in 2021 occurs on March 28th at 18:48 (UTC), and in Jerusalem on March 28th at 21:48 (UTC+3 due to Israel Daylight Time). Since the vernal full moon in Jerusalem on March 28th at 21:48 (UTC+3) is a Sunday, this means that Pascha 2021 should be celebrated on the first Sunday afterward, which is Sunday, April 4th—precisely the date that Easter is celebrated in 2021 by the Western Churches.
According to the complex mathematical formula currently in use by the Orthodox Church for the calculation of Pascha—without reference to actual astronomical phenomena—the vernal full moon for 2021 has been calculated as occurring on May 1st (Julian Calendar, April 18th). However, through simple, non-scientific observation a person could look at the astronomical phenomena visible in the sky on May 1st, 2021 to understand that there will not be a full moon on that date. Rather, the moon will actually be in a waning gibbous on May 1st, 2021 with 75% of the moon’s visible disk illuminated. The lack of a full moon on that date will be evident in Jerusalem—as well as in Chicago. Rather, in those two locations (and throughout Western Europe and North America) the vernal full moon will occur much earlier, on Sunday, March 28th, 2021. Consequently, Orthodox Pascha in 2021 will be especially out of sync with the actual astronomical phenomena linked to an accurate calculation of the Paschal date. In fact, on April 27th, 2021 the second full moon of spring will occur in Jerusalem. This means that the Orthodox celebration of Pascha on May 2nd, 2021 will actually occur on the first Sunday after the second full moon of spring!
It was widely understood by ancient Christians that the vernal full moon could not be determined reliably by observation since what sometimes appears to the eye as a full moon may not, in fact, be one. This is one of the reasons why after Nicaea, different Churches in communion with one another developed a wide variety of scientific/mathematical calculations over the centuries to determine the vernal full moon needed to arrive at the date of Pascha. However, scientific methods have advanced significantly since the time of antiquity, as has our ability to reliably know the dates of the vernal equinox and the vernal full moon for any given year. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople raised the issue of all Churches employing a common calendar so that Eastern and Western Churches could celebrate major Christian feast days together throughout each year. Moreover, in 1923 a Pan-Orthodox Congress under the leadership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople advocated using a more accurate Revised Julian Calendar (similar to the Gregorian Calendar), while also returning to the actual astronomical phenomena of the vernal equinox and vernal full moon for the calculation of Pascha. Divisive reactions against adoption of a new calendar and new Paschal calculations resulted in a compromise that allowed autocephalous Orthodox Churches to choose the old Julian Calendar or the new Revised Julian Calendar to regulate the ecclesiastical year. However, the old Julian Calendar and the scientific calculations based on it were maintained for the determination of Paschal dates.
In light of the many calendrical and scientific advances today, Orthodox Christians must ask themselves if it is still faithful to the spirit of the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicaea to use the inaccurate Julian Calendar, a “fixed” Julian Calendar date of March 21st (Gregorian Calendar, April 3rd) for the vernal equinox, and a mathematically calculated approximation of the vernal full moon for Pascha’s calculation. Although a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate has recently asserted that the Orthodox Church’s current method of Paschal calculation is a “dogmatic issue” and “to depart from it means to lose touch with the Orthodox tradition,” nothing could be further from the truth. Nicaea issued its formula for the calculation of Pascha so that Christians everywhere would celebrate the most important Christian feast together in unity as a common witness to the world. Nicaea did not precisely regulate the technical details, methods, or calendar by which the vernal equinox and vernal full moon would be determined, but expected the best available science to be used for the calculation of Pascha. Certainly, the best available science is no longer being used for Pascha’s calculation, resulting in Orthodox Paschal dates that do not adhere to the Orthodox tradition established by Nicaea.
During the 21st century, the Orthodox and Western Churches will share a common celebration of Pascha only 31 times. In subsequent centuries, the shared celebration of Pascha will occur much less frequently as errors in the Julian Calendar become more pronounced. This will result in Orthodox Pascha occurring even later in the year and more severely out of relationship with the vernal equinox and vernal full moon. Over time, the celebration of Orthodox Pascha will drift later into spring, into summer, and beyond. Unless action is taken, the year AD 2698 will be the final time that Orthodox Pascha and Western Easter occur on the same day. There may eventually be generations of Christians who are sadly led to believe that Orthodox and Western Christians have never celebrated Pascha/Easter together.
A consultation on Pascha/Easter under the World Council of Churches occurred in 1997 between representatives of the Orthodox Church and Western Churches. This resulted in an excellent statement on and thoughtful recommendations for a common celebration of Pascha. Unfortunately, these recommendations were never implemented. It is time that Orthodox Christians again begin to discuss this important issue of Paschal calculation and celebration, while also moving past widespread misperceptions among Orthodox Christians regarding the reasons why Pascha frequently occurs so much later than Western Easter.
To be sure, Western Christians do utilize the formula issued by Nicaea for the calculation of Pascha, while Orthodox Christians do not need to wait for the Jewish celebration of Passover before Orthodox Pascha may occur.  Rather, the use of a more accurate calendar and more accurate scientific calculations by the Orthodox Church are needed for Orthodox Pascha to happen once again each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox—and again together with our Western Christian brothers and sisters.
John Fotopoulos is an Associate Professor of New Testament in the Department of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Fr. Anthony Savas

Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message April 4, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Third Sunday of Lent is that of the Veneration of the Cross. The cross stands in the midst of the Church in the middle of the Lenten season not merely to remind us of Christ’s redemption and to keep before us the goal of our efforts, but also to be venerated as that reality by which man must live to be saved. “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10.38). For in the Cross of Christ Crucified lies both “the power of God and the wisdom of God” for those being saved (1 Cor 1.24).

With Much Love in XC,

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message March 28, 2021

Beacon of Orthodox belief, the strong support of the Church and her teacher inspired by God, you are the ornament of monks, the unassailable champion of theologians, O Gregory the Wonder-worker and the boast of Thessalonica, the messenger of grace. Forever earnestly entreat for the salvation of our souls.

Hymn of St. Gregory Palamas

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Great Lent . We have all reached a precious milestone. This Sunday was originally dedicated to Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (February 23). But following the formal recognition of sainthood for St. Gregory Palamas in 1368 on November 14,, a second commemoration was also appointed to him for the Second Sunday of Great Lent as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, was born in the year 1296 in Constantinople. Saint Gregory’s father became a prominent dignitiary at the court of Andronicus II Paleologos (1282-1328), but he soon died, and Andronicus himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy. Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 (other sources say 1318) and became a novice in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder Saint Nikodemos of Vatopedi (July 11). There he was tonsured and began on the path of asceticism. A year later, the holy Evangelist John the Theologian appeared to him in a vision and promised him his spiritual protection. Gregory’s mother and sisters also became monastics.

After the demise of the Elder Nikodemos, Saint Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of the Elder Nicephorus, and after the latter’s death, Gregory transferred to the Lavra of Saint Athanasius (July 5). Here he served in the trapeza, and then became a church singer. But after three years, he resettled in the small skete of Glossia, striving for a greater degree of spiritual perfection. The head of this monastery began to teach the young man the method of unceasing prayer and mental activity, which had been cultivated by monastics, beginning with the great desert ascetics of the fourth century: Evagrius Pontikos and Saint Macarius of Egypt (January 19).

Later on, in the eleventh century Saint Simeon the New Theologian (March 12) provided detailed instruction in mental activity for those praying in an outward manner, and the ascetics of Athos put it into practice. The experienced use of mental prayer (or prayer of the heart), requiring solitude and quiet, is called “Hesychasm” (from the Greek “hesychia” meaning calm, silence), and those practicing it were called “hesychasts.”

During his stay at Glossia the future hierarch Gregory became fully embued with the spirit of hesychasm and adopted it as an essential part of his life. In the year 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to Thessalonica, where he was then ordained to the holy priesthood.

Saint Gregory combined his priestly duties with the life of a hermit. Five days of the week he spent in silence and prayer, and only on Saturday and Sunday did he come out to his people. He celebrated divine services and preached sermons. For those present in church, his teaching often evoked both tenderness and tears. Sometimes he visited theological gatherings of the city’s educated youth, headed by the future patriarch, Isidore. After he returned from a visit to Constantinople, he found a place suitable for solitary life near Thessalonica the region of Bereia. Soon he gathered here a small community of solitary monks and guided it for five years.

In 1331 the saint withdrew to Mt. Athos and lived in solitude at the skete of Saint Savva, near the Lavra of Saint Athanasius. In 1333 he was appointed Igumen of the Esphigmenou monastery in the northern part of the Holy Mountain. In 1336 the saint returned to the skete of Saint Savva, where he devoted himself to theological works, continuing with this until the end of his life.

In the 1330s events took place in the life of the Eastern Church which put Saint Gregory among the most significant universal apologists of Orthodoxy, and brought him great renown as a teacher of hesychasm.

About the year 1330 the learned monk Barlaam had arrived in Constantinople from Calabria, in Italy. He was the author of treatises on logic and astronomy, a skilled and sharp-witted orator, and he received a university chair in the capital city and began to expound on the works of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (October 3), whose “apophatic” (“negative”, in contrast to “kataphatic” or “positive”) theology was acclaimed in equal measure in both the Eastern and the Western Churches. Soon Barlaam journeyed to Mt. Athos, where he became acquainted with the spiritual life of the hesychasts. Saying that it was impossible to know the essence of God, he declared mental prayer a heretical error. Journeying from Mount Athos to Thessalonica, and from there to Constantinople, and later again to Thessalonica, Barlaam entered into disputes with the monks and attempted to demonstrate the created, material nature of the light of Tabor (i.e. at the Transfiguration). He ridiculed the teachings of the monks about the methods of prayer and about the uncreated light seen by the hesychasts.

Saint Gregory, at the request of the Athonite monks, replied with verbal admonitions at first. But seeing the futility of such efforts, he put his theological arguments in writing. Thus appeared the “Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts” (1338). Towards the year 1340 the Athonite ascetics, with the assistance of the saint, compiled a general response to the attacks of Barlaam, the so-called “Hagiorite Tome.” At the Constantinople Council of 1341 in the church of Hagia Sophia Saint Gregory Palamas debated with Barlaam, focusing upon the nature of the light of Mount Tabor. On May 27, 1341 the Council accepted the position of Saint Gregory Palamas, that God, unapproachable in His Essence, reveals Himself through His energies, which are directed towards the world and are able to be perceived, like the light of Tabor, but which are neither material nor created. The teachings of Barlaam were condemned as heresy, and he himself was anathemized and fled to Calabria.

But the dispute between the Palamites and the Barlaamites was far from over. To these latter belonged Barlaam’s disciple, the Bulgarian monk Akyndinos, and also Patriarch John XIV Kalekos (1341-1347); the emperor Andronicus III Paleologos (1328-1341) was also inclined toward their opinion. Akyndinos, whose name means “one who inflicts no harm,” actually caused great harm by his heretical teaching. Akyndinos wrote a series of tracts in which he declared Saint Gregory and the Athonite monks guilty of causing church disorders. The saint, in turn, wrote a detailed refutation of Akyndinos’ errors. The patriarch supported Akyndinos and called Saint Gregory the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church (1344) and had him locked up in prison for four years. In 1347, when John the XIV was replaced on the patriarchal throne by Isidore (1347-1349), Saint Gregory Palamas was set free and was made Archbishop of Thessalonica.

In 1351 the Council of Blachernae solemnly upheld the Orthodoxy of his teachings. But the people of Thessalonica did not immediately accept Saint Gregory, and he was compelled to live in various places. On one of his travels to Constantinople the Byzantine ship fell into the hands of the Turks. Even in captivity, Saint Gregory preached to Christian prisoners and even to his Moslem captors. The Hagarenes were astonished by the wisdom of his words. Some of the Moslems were unable to endure this, so they beat him and would have killed him if they had not expected to obtain a large ransom for him. A year later, Saint Gregory was ransomed and returned to Thessalonica.

Saint Gregory performed many miracles in the three years before his death, healing those afflicted with illness. On the eve of his repose, Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him in a vision. With the words “To the heights! To the heights!” Saint Gregory Palamas fell asleep in the Lord on November 14, 1359. In 1368 he was canonized at a Constantinople Council under Patriarch Philotheus (1354-1355, 1364-1376), who compiled the Life and Services to the saint. (OCA)

With Much Love in XC,


Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message March 21, 2021

Remember that this Thursday, March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation! Great Vespers are at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, March 24th. Orthros begins the following morning at 8:00, the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am, followed by a Doxology for the 200 Year Anniversary of Greek Independence. The hard-fought liberation of the Greek People after 400 Years of Ottoman suppression, abuse and indignity is a celebration of freedom and sanctity throughout the world. Join us for this dual celebration!

Fr. Anthony SavasAttachments1:03 AM (5 hours ago)
to Anthony

Remember that this Thursday, March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation! Great Vespers are at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, March 24th. Orthros begins the following morning at 8:00, the Divine Liturgy at 9:00 am, followed by a Doxology for the 200 Year Anniversary of Greek Independence. The hard-fought liberation of the Greek People after 400 Years of Ottoman suppression, abuse and indignity is a celebration of freedom and sanctity throughout the world. Join us for this duel celebration!

Image result for sunday of orthodoxy icon

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Rejoicing in the triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday of Lent, we joyfully commemorate three events: one event belonging to the past; one event to the present; and one event which still belongs to the future.

Whenever we have any feast or joy in the Church, we Orthodox first of all look back — for in our present life we depend on what happened in the past. We depend first of all, of course, on the first and the ultimate triumph—that of Christ Himself. Our faith is rooted in that strange defeat which became the most glorious victory — the defeat of a man nailed to the cross, who rose again from the dead, who is the Lord and the Master of the world. This is the first triumph of Orthodoxy. This is the content of all our commemorations and of all our joy. This man selected and chose twelve men, gave them power to preach about that defeat and that victory, and sent them to the whole world saying preach and baptize, build up the Church, announce the Kingdom of God. And you know, my brothers and sisters, how those twelve men — very simple men indeed, simple fishermen — went out and preached. The world hated them, the Roman Empire persecuted them, and they were covered with blood. But that blood was another victory.

The Church grew, the Church covered the universe with the true faith. After 300 years of the most unequal conflict between the powerful Roman Empire and the powerless Christian Church, the Roman Empire accepted Christ as Lord and Master. That was the second triumph of Orthodoxy. The Roman Empire recognized the one whom it crucified and those whom it persecuted as the bearers of truth, and their teaching as the teaching of life eternal. The Church triumphed. But then the second period of troubles began.

The following centuries saw many attempts to distort the faith, to adjust it to human needs, to fill it with human content. In each generation there were those who could not accept that message of the cross and resurrection and life eternal. They tried to change it, and those changes we call heresies. Again there were persecutions. Again, Orthodox bishops, monks and laymen defended their faith and were condemned and went into exile and were covered with blood. And after five centuries of those conflicts and persecutions and discussions, the day came which we commemorate today, the day of the final victory of Orthodoxy as the true faith over all the heresies. It happened on the first Sunday of Lent in the year 843 in Constantinople. After almost 100 years of persecution directed against the worship of the holy icons, the Church finally proclaimed that the truth had been defined, that the truth was fully in the possession of the Church. And since then all Orthodox people, wherever they live, have gathered on this Sunday to proclaim before the world their faith in that truth, their belief that their Church is truly apostolic, truly Orthodox, truly universal. This is the event of the past that we commemorate today.

But let us ask ourselves one question: Do all the triumphs of Orthodoxy, all the victories, belong to the past? Looking at the present today, we sometimes feel that our only consolation is to remember the past. Then Orthodoxy was glorious, then the Orthodox Church was powerful, then it dominated. But what about the present? My dear friends, if the triumph of Orthodoxy belongs to the past only, if there is nothing else for us to do but commemorate, to repeat to ourselves how glorious was the past, then Orthodoxy is dead. But we are here tonight to witness to the fact that Orthodoxy not only is not dead but also that it is once more and forever celebrating its own triumph — the triumph of Orthodoxy. We don’t have to fight heresies among ourselves, but we have other things that once more challenge our Orthodox faith.

Today, gathered here together, Orthodox of various national backgrounds, we proclaim and we glorify first of all our unity in Orthodoxy. This is the triumph of Orthodoxy in the present. This is a most wonderful event: that all of us, with all our differences, with all our limitations, with all our weaknesses, can come together and say we belong to that Orthodox faith, that we are one in Christ and in Orthodoxy. We are living very far from the traditional centers of Orthodoxy. We call ourselves Eastern Orthodox, and yet we are here in the West, so far from those glorious cities which were centers of the Orthodox faith for centuries — Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow. How far are those cities. And yet, don’t we have the feeling that something of a miracle has happened, that God has sent us here, far into the West, not just in order to settle here, to increase our income, to build up a community. He also has sent us as apostles of Orthodoxy, so that this faith, which historically was limited to the East, now is becoming a faith which is truly and completely universal.

This is a thrilling moment in the history of Orthodoxy. That is why it is so important for us to be here tonight and to understand, to realize, to have that vision of what is going on. People were crossing the ocean, coming here, not thinking so much about their faith as about themselves, about their lives, about their future. They were usually poor people, they had a difficult life, and they built those little Orthodox churches everywhere in America not for other people but for themselves, just to remember their homes, to perpetuate their tradition. They didn’t think of the future. And yet this is what happened: the Orthodox Church was sent here through and with those poor men. The truth itself, the fullness of the apostolic faith—all this came here, and here we are now, filling this hall and proclaiming this apostolic faith — the faith that has strengthened the universe. And this leads us to the event which still belongs to the future.

If today we can only proclaim, if we can only pray for that coming triumph of Orthodoxy in this country and in the world, our Orthodox faith forces us to believe that it is not by accident but by divine providence that the Orthodox faith today has reached all countries, all cities, all continents of the universe. After that historic weakness of our religion, after the persecutions by the Roman Empire, by the Turks, by the godless atheists, after all the troubles that we had to go through, today a new day begins. Something new is going to happen. And it is this future of Orthodoxy that we have to rejoice about today.

We can already have a vision of that future when, in the West, a strong American Orthodox Church comes into existence. We can see how this faith, which for such a long time was an alien faith here, will become truly and completely universal in the sense that we will answer the questions of all men, and also all their questions. For if we believe in that word: “Orthodoxy,” “the true faith”; if for one moment we try to understand what it means: the true, the full Christianity, as it has been proclaimed by Christ and His disciples; if our Church has preserved for all ages the message of the apostles and of the fathers and of the saints in its purest form, then, my dear friends, here is the answer to the questions and to the problems and to the sufferings of our world. You know that our world today is so complex. It is changing all the time. And the more it changes, the more people fear, the more they are frightened by the future, the more they are preoccupied by what will happen to them. And this is where Orthodoxy must answer their problem; this is where Orthodoxy must accept the challenge of modern civilization and reveal to men of all nations, to all men in the whole world, that it has remained the force of God left in history for the transformation, for the deification, for the transfiguration of human life.

The past, the present, the future: At the beginning, one lonely man on the cross — the complete defeat. And if at that time we had been there with all our human calculations, we probably would have said: “That’s the end. Nothing else will happen.” The twelve left Him. There was no one, no one to hope. The world was in darkness. Everything seemed finished. And you know what happened three days later. Three days later He appeared. He appeared to His disciples, and their hearts were burning within them because they knew that He was the risen Lord. And since then, in every generation, there have been people with burning hearts, people who have felt that this victory of Christ had to be carried again and again into this world, to be proclaimed in order to win new human souls and to be the transforming force in history.

Today this responsibility belongs to us. We feel that we are weak. We feel that we are limited, we are divided, we are still separated in so many groups, we have so many obstacles to overcome. But today, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we close our eyes for a second and we rejoice in that unity which is already here: priests of various national churches praying together, people of all backgrounds uniting in prayer for the triumph of Orthodoxy. We are already in a triumph, and may God help us keep that triumph in our hearts, so that we never give up hope in that future event in the history of orthodoxy when Orthodoxy will become the victory which eternally overcomes all the obstacles, because that victory is the victory of Christ Himself.

As we approach the most important moment of the Eucharist, the priest says, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess….” What is the condition of the real triumph of Orthodoxy? What is the way leading to the real, the final, the ultimate victory of our faith? The answer comes from the Gospel. The answer comes from Christ Himself and from the whole tradition of Orthodoxy. It is love. Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess . . . confess our faith, our Orthodoxy. Let us, from now on, feel responsible for each other. Let us understand that even if we are divided in small parishes, in small dioceses, we first of all belong to one another. We belong together, to Christ, to His Body, to the Church. Let us feel responsible for each other, and let us love one another. Let us put above everything else the interests of Orthodoxy in this country. Let us understand that each one of us today has to be the apostle of Orthodoxy in a country which is not yet Orthodox, in a society which is asking us: “What do you believe?” “What is your faith?” And let us, above everything else, keep the memory, keep the experience, keep the taste of that unity which we are anticipating tonight.

At the end of the first century — when the Church was still a very small group, a very small minority, in a society which was definitely anti-Christian when the persecution was beginning — St. John the Divine, the beloved disciple of Christ, wrote these words: “And this is the victory, our faith, this is the victory.” There was no victory at that time, and yet he knew that in his faith he had the victory that can be applied to us today. We have the promise of Christ, that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. We have the promise of Christ that if we have faith, all things are possible. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit, that He will fill all that which is weak, that He will help us at the moment when we need help. In other words, we have all the possibilities, we have everything that we need, and therefore the victory is ours. It is not a human victory which can be defined in terms of money, of human success, of human achievements. 

Today is the triumph of Orthodoxy, and a hymn sung today states solemnly and simply: “This is the Apostolic faith, this is the Orthodox faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith that is the foundation of the world.” My dear brothers and sisters, this is also our own faith. We are chosen. We are elected. We are the happy few that can say of our faith, “apostolic,” “universal,” “the faith of our fathers,” “Orthodoxy,” “the truth.” Having this wonderful treasure, let us preserve it, let us keep it, and let us also use it in such a way that this treasure becomes the victory of Christ in us and in His Church. Amen. (From the Orthodox Church in America)

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Categories
Pastoral Letters

Pastoral Message March 14, 2021

We were expelled of old, O Lord, from the Garden of Eden, for wrongly eating from the tree. But, O my God and Savior, You once again have restored us through Your Cross and Your Passion. Thereby, O Master, fortify and enable us purely to finish Lent and to worship Your holy resurrection, Pascha our saving Passover, by the prayers of Your Mother.                 

Hymn of Forgiveness Sunday

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This Sunday, the final Day of the Lord which precedes Great and Holy Lent is known as Forgiveness Sunday. It is the final day of the Triodion Period and stands as the entrance to what will be our “new normal” for the next 50+ days. Our Lenten journey will be filled with successes, struggles, victories, defeats, highs, lows, celebrations, laments, good days, and, likely some not-so-good days. 

But from the time we tasted of the fruit of the forbidden tree, stood ashamedly before God, blamed the other for our own offences, found ourselves expelled from the Kingdom, and felt true isolation, we have yearned to reconcile with God. Thankfully for us, He pined equally for union as well.

Standing in sharp contrast to the theme of forgiveness which defines this Sunday morning and evening, the Church also commemorates on this day the horrific event of our Expulsion from the Garden. Look upon the icon at the top of this message. Even as a mere fragment of the image, the depiction is clear. The Archangel Michael has his hands on Adam, literally shoving him away. There is a gate behind him, guarded by the Cherubim so that no man or woman could enter therein.

The eyes of our forefather and foremother are downcast and crestfallen. Their hands are lifted in a posture of self defense. But regrettably, they have no defense. The eyes of the angel are peering, laser-focused and stern. He is doing God’s bidding. He is casting out human kind from their natural environment, from their comfortable existence, and their familiar surroundings. Their every need was met. Their every, wholesome desire was fulfilled and they lived in a perpetual state of bliss. At least they should have.

But they ate from a tree that was forbidden, and suffered the consequences. Orthodox theology is quite clear on this concept: the Church does not teach the false doctrine of “original sin,” as the West supports. While we inherit the circumstances and the consequences of the Fall, we do not suffer, or participate in the actual guilt of Adam’s sin. The consequences are bad enough. 

Adam and Eve’s desire to acquire God’s knowledge as their own, as the serpent promised, was their downfall and the commencement of our woes. Every ill, malady, vice, addiction and disease flooded around us from that point and challenges our every moment to this day. Ironically, their hunger for that which was not theirs to take, is the direct cause of literal hunger in the world today.

My Beloved in the Lord, as we begin our new life in Christ through the Great Fast, I would like to introduce to you a new and ongoing ministry that will begin on Monday, March 15th, the First Day of Lent: 

St. Anna Food Support Program

In response to the critical need to address hunger in our community, St. Anna is establishing our Church building as a permanent collection/drop-off location to supplement two local pantries that distribute food items to families in need throughout the Sandy and greater area.

Donations of nonperishable food items can be brought to Church on designated days and times below and delivered regularly to the pantries at Copperview Food and Resource Center, operated by Utah Community Action, and Diamond Ridge Alternative High School/Entrada Adult High School in the Canyons School District. Both pantries partner with Utah Food Bank.

The pantries have provided a list of basic, most-needed food items, which will be collected on an ongoing basis. Additional requests for urgently needed items will be addressed by coordinating short-term mini-drives/projects with various parish ministries. Moving forward, we will expand our collection efforts to incorporate donations from the community. (See flyer with the attachments and in the Bulletin)

Most needed food items

Canned meats (tuna, chicken, salmon, etc.); canned vegetables, canned chili, peanut butter, jelly, Top Ramen, Instant Mac and Cheese, Cup O’ Noodle (other instant meals); rice; flour, sugar, dry milk, and granola bars

Donation drop-off

Drop-off days/times: Sundays 9:00 am -12:00 noon and Tuesdays 9:00-11:00 am. Place donated items in the large blue bin in the Fellowship Hall. All donations from the above list are appreciated. Families can also join together to purchase case goods (e.g., WinCo Foods, Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.).

Please do not misunderstand and think this is a passing food drive or seasonal project. The collection bin will be a permanent fixture at St. Anna’s. It will serve with the same level of importance as the altar table itself. It is my fervent prayer that going forward, when we prepare ourselves to come to church, it will be completely natural to always have in hand a case of peanut butter or a flat of canned green beans. Food insecurity is a very real and pervasive reality in our surrounding neighborhood. This project was developed out of a desired partnership between local faith leaders and school officials of the Canyons School District. 

We will help to supply small, local, educationally-based food pantries that serve the needs of thousands of families per year.

The realities of the Fall are just that…realities. Together, we as a community who strive for, and work towards the return to God’s Kingdom will do so, in part, but giving back was taken away at the Fall: dignity and sustenance.

This is an on-going project under the umbrella of our Service Ministry Team, and supported by our Men’s and Women’s Ministry Teams.

For questions, call Kathy Shand or Ann Sasich. 

Fr. Anthony Savas
Protopresbyter

Remember to participate in this year’s Lenten Challenge and pick up your free copy of “Toolkit for Spiritual Growth” at the St. Anna Bookstore. Gain insight into the spiritual principles of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Follow the five-week Study Guide and enhance your experience with the following link:

https://1788c8d2-cf52-49c6-b300-646496512c90.filesusr.com/ugd/17a549_d9de527ab76e4f81ae1a4bfaf7983f22.pdf